My teenage daughter (nearly an adult now) and I make the best of our time together. We have found a lot of fun things to do, like going to the Maryland Science Center, the Renaissance Festival, and the Walters Art Gallery. Seeing Spam-a-lot was just the best (you can probably imagine what it means to a geek like me having a daughter who loves Python). We tried the movie thing for as long as we could, but it just didn’t work for me: (http://morucci.blogspot.com/2007/06/movie-groaning-experience.html). So we usually just grab a meal together on a weekend. But our time together isn't always event-based; sometimes it’s the routine chores of life, including clothes shopping.
My daughter had a $50 gift card for Abercrombie & Fitch. If you ask anyone where the kids shop for clothing, this store will be the number-one response. And with a generous amount like that, she should be able to add a few nice items to her wardrobe.
It was a first-time shopping experience for me. Personally, I love faded t-shirts, weathered baseball-style caps, fleece and rustic jeans. It’s all comfortable, practical, and usually easy on the wallet. So I thought I might find something for myself too when we went in. What I didn’t realize is the hefty premium A&F charges for the privilege bestowed upon you to brandish their logo (it’s on practically everything they sell). Maybe it’s not an automatic privilege; maybe you have to pledge first with the frat boys that greet you as you enter the store. I’m just kidding. No one greeted me.
Web site prices for the items I listed above are $29.50 (t-shirts), $24.50 (weather caps), $79.50 (fleece) and $79.50 (jeans, $89.50 for destroyed). So apparently cotton has become a luxury fabric.
The store itself was a trip back to all of my favorite John Williams 80s movies, only this time the pretty rich kids are the cashiers. (I am still the nerd.) And even though I know technically they’re there to help me, I still felt like I stumbled into a party I wasn’t invited to. But no one kicked my ass, or stole my girlfriend, or wrecked my dad’s sports car, or threw me into the pool.
You can’t miss your local Abercrombie & Fitch. It’s the store you thought was a night club, only it’s 2:00 in the afternoon and it’s on the second floor of the mall. If the bump-bump-bump of their techno pop remixes doesn’t kick off your migraine, the permeating smell from of one of their two colognes (41 – jeez, I’m even older than their freakin’ cologne, or Fierce – it just reeks of preppy jocks pantsing nerds) will.
Needless to say, I wanted out and fast. But she had a $50 gift card to burn and the math wasn’t on our side. She could get a t-shirt or a cap, but not both. Or she could put a down payment on a hoodie or a pair of jeans, but I’m pretty sure lay away isn’t something one requests here. I could throw in $30 but that felt like paying the devil his due, and I wasn’t at the crossroads and I hadn’t brought my guitar.
After a lot of searching, we found a cute sweater (without a logo) for $30 on the closeout shelf, a shelf that screamed: “here are some clothes that are sooooo last year, and now they’re half-price for you poor kids”. The shelf is up high, in the back of the maze, and items are just thrown in a pile instead of folded and faced. Hell, I’m not proud. I’ll look through their leftovers and they can hit me with a spotlight.
So we grabbed the sweater and one other close-out item (tank top, pair of socks, scarf, Satan’s gavel, I don’t know) and it rang up just north of $50. The kids at the register were nice, and, of course, pretty. But it's not their fault - according to their web site: "Want to be an A&F model? Start by working in our stores." So we had two small items that could have fit in a zip-loc bag. They handed me a two-panel billboard with handles.
OK, now I’m pissed. This is ridiculous. I’m not embarrassed that I shopped at A&F. I’m embarrassed that I’m supposed to let everyone in the mall know I just shopped at A&F, even if they’re two stories down and 100 yards away. And I don’t consider myself a prude or a homophobe, but do I have to carry a bag with this dude on it?
Observe, my choices are:
[Bag Side A] a wet, young male body complete with an erect nipple, or
[Bag Side B] his soaked khakis clinging to his crotch.
I checked out their web site and it was just as uncomfortable as the store experience. The photos for a few of the sections (Mens, Womens and Photo Gallery) are provocative shots of young models. Look, just because they’re 18 on paper doesn’t mean much when they look 18 or younger. I’m sure Old Man Herbert from Family Guy would looove this site. My daughter offered a good perspective – if they’re advertising clothes, where are the actual clothes and why is everyone naked?
I understand I’m not their quoted target audience of 18-22. However, I’d argue that their target audience wishes they were 18-22 – I see a lot more middle- and high-school rather than college students in their gear.
Even their Google search web site description is pretentious: “The highest quality, casual, All-American lifestyle clothing for aspirational men and women.”
Aspirational? Really? Aspirations are high achievements for which one strives. Clothing is aspirational? Really? I wouldn’t call becoming a walking billboard-follower-conformist who gains self-esteem through mimicking the styles or actions of others, and judging or persecuting those who don’t, a high achievement. Ask your kids what it’s like when you’re not in with the in kids. "Kids will be kids" my ass. People are people, regardless of the age, and everyone is accountable for their words and their actions.
The career pitch on their web site talks about diversity and inclusion (http://www.abercrombie.com/anf/hr/jobs/careers.html) – yet their customers, in my cynical and myopic perspective, are all about conformity and exclusion. I’m not claiming A&F is the evil empire. I’m sure their employees are quite cool. And if you can sell simple products competitively at a premium, enjoy it. While you can.
As for their customers: look if you have money, I’m happy for you – there’s nothing wrong with having money. If you’re into fashion and clothing, that’s totally cool. If A&F is your favorite brand, enjoy it. Just don’t be a Stepford kid: someone who feels he/she has to dress a certain way and judges others who don’t. Be aware of the marketing game and understand that clothes, styles, logos, looks and many of your friends are all temporary.
A&F, at least turn that damn music down. You’re a clothing store, not a club. Except you are a club, I know. But you’re not a night club. Look, I have a headache and all I want is an Orange Julius.